We might be happy – but we're not all in it together

Measuring wellbeing is a nebulous business - and what can be done with the data?

Share
Related Topics

How happy are you, out of 10? It's a weird question. You and I might be in roughly the same state, except you might give it an eight because you don't like the idea of not being contented, and I might give it a six because I'm self-indulgent enough to think my life could get even better. The very act of asking yourself might make you suddenly anxious that you are not as cheerful as you ought to be, and therefore a mark lower on the scale than you might have been when you weren't thinking about it. The human condition is hard to quantify, and hard to explicate, and harder still to do anything about.

All of that makes for a strange policy goal. Still, David Cameron has decided that where Proust failed, the Office for National Statistics may succeed, and so we're giving it a go. The study of our well-being published yesterday is supposed to give an indication of how we're doing. According to the figures, the answer is: sort of all right, actually. Our economy might have double-dipped, but our moods have stayed pretty even. (On average, we give ourselves a 7.1, a figure that seems about right: the kind of happiness that comes with a nice cup of tea, say, rather than a trip to the Maldives.)

The ONS suggests a key factor in that surprising good cheer is that, whatever else has been going on, employment's held up pretty well – and having a job is essential. That's a heartening conclusion, not least in the way that it suggests we're not quite as dismally materialistic as it can often seem. But like I said, this is a nebulous business. If people feel better with jobs, should we transform the system to aim for full employment above all other goals? Lots of people feel chipper after a major sporting summer like this one, for example. Does that mean we should divert resources from the welfare state to fund more of them?

The answer to both questions is plainly no. And this points to a possible wider conclusion it's important to knock down before it gets any purchase. Whether an austerity programme is essential or not, no one who supports such a policy should do so on the basis that it doesn't really do anyone any harm.

Those of us who avoid the worst of it will be fine however brutal the cuts, it's true; but for a minority who find themselves facing the consequences personally, the impact will be enormous. Most of us are all right, most of the time, and whether we are at a 7.1 or a 7.0 is surely beyond the Government's purview. The real question is how to look after the ones who never ask themselves how happy they are because they're too busy trying to survive.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada